Eric Krasno (Lettuce) Interview

Do do funky musicians watch, or have time for the Olympics?
SV – How would you describe your level of Olympic interest?
EK – I hate to say it, but probably none.
Lettuce performs this Saturday, Feb. 22 at the Phoenix Theatre in Toronto.  

By: Dan Warry-Smith

SV – Thanks for taking the time to chat, Eric. Toronto catches Lettuce on the very end of its 2013/2014 Winter Tour. What have been some highlights so far?

EK – You know, I’d have to say that last night (Charlotte, NC) was one of our best shows. We’re getting a lot of new material going, we have Alecia Chakour out with us, who’s an amazing singer. So we’re kind of evolving as this particular lineup, and the shows keep getting better. We had a great show in Denver. We did the Fillmore, had almost three thousand people at that show. We did the Fillmore in San Francisco too, which is a legendary place. So we’ve had some good ones. I think, musically, it keeps getting better as the tour goes on.

SV – How much spontaneity occurs on a night-to-night basis for Lettuce?
EK – A lot (laughs). I would say, a lot of my favourite moments are spontaneous ones. I think that’s where we thrive. We have a lot of very tight arrangements, and the arrangements evolve and change. But my favourite parts of the night are when we find new things and experiment. That’s been happening more and more, as the tour goes on. As we get tighter, we get more comfortable as well, and that allows us to open up and explore new things.

SV – This is the first Lettuce show in Toronto, but not your first time here personally. What’s your history been with the city?
EK – Oh, I love it up there. Soulive’s had great gigs up there over the years. Just a great town, a lot of great culture and music there. So I’m excited to get Lettuce up there.

SV – What’s happening in Brooklyn at the moment that you’re excited about?
EK – Well, I live in Green Point, which is changing by the minute. There’s new venues, new bars, Williamsburg and all that stuff. So it’s exciting to see it grow. I’ve been living there for the past thirteen years, and I’ve seen it change a lot. The Brooklyn Bowl is a place that a good friend of mine opened up, and we do residencies there throughout the year, and that’s been a focal point for music in the area. A lot of cool sessions and different collaborations happen there.

SV – Any plans to play at their new Vegas location?
EK – Yeah, we’re doing the opening weekend, which is March seventh, eighth, and ninth. With Soulive.

SV – Cool. What can you tell me about your “impromptu” central park jam with Phil Lesh & Joe Russo?
EK – Pete Shapiro – who owns Brooklyn Bowl – that was his idea. I’ve met Phil a bunch over the years, but now that he’s putting different lineups together, Shapiro was like “you gotta get together to play with Phil”. Pete was also doing this thing called Jazz & Colors, in Central Park, where it was different little combos popping up throughout the park. Mostly unplugged, or like battery-operated amps, and he said “what if I get Phil over there? You wanna play with him and Joe?”. I said “of course, if you can make it happen”. And I had a gig the night before, in Chicago, that ended at like four in the morning, just a late show. So I literally went right to the airport, got an a plane, flew back, and went straight to Central Park and did that. Pretty crazy, but it was a last minute thing. It was really fun. Phil and I had met a few times, but never actually played together. So it was pretty cool, to do that.

SV – What’s some new music you’ve recently been turned on to, or become a fan of?
EK – My favourite new band is probably Tame Impala – from Australia. I loved their album, and then I got to see them at Terminal 5 in New York, and I was blown away. Amazing band, sick live performance. I would say they’ve been my favourite new band, that I’ve gotten into.

SV – What was the first record you remember that “affected” your life?
EK – I’d have to say Axis: Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin 2 and 3. Actually, really all of the first four Led Zeppelin records – I got into them all at the same time. But that’s really why I started playing guitar. I heard that, started learning those tunes, and eventually found Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan and all that other stuff.

SV – What is your ideal mental state, while playing live? Where are you trying to get to mentally?
EK – Trying to really not think at all, a meditative state. Music is a meditation, you know? Trying not to think about too many things. That’s why it’s important to know the music, so it’s in your fingers and you don’t have to think about it. The clearest mind possible, is what I’m looking for.

SV – How often is it possible to communicate directly with “the muse”, and really transcend live performance?
EK – I’d say there’s different levels of it. It happens enough, the more we play as a band, the more we’re able to do that, and it helps us connect. The ultimate level is reached once in a while, and you always strive for that. But I don’t know how to get there specifically, I don’t think you can calculate it (laughs). But it does happen when the time is right.

SV – Rubber Soulive is a great cover record. With the recent passing of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I wonder if you have any Beatles stories. Did you ever meet any of them? What is your personal history with the band and their music?
EK – I’ve never met any of them, but it was just this thing that was in my house since I was a baby. When I was a baby it was Brazilian music, The Beatles, and Stevie Wonder. My dad would just play music for fun, but his dad was a gypsy violinist who would cover The Beatles’ material. It was just around, that music was around me a lot as a kid. It’s fun music to play.

SV – How would you describe your level of Olympic interest?
EK – I hate to say it, but probably none. I haven’t watched any of it yet. I actually tried to watch today for a minute, and I couldn’t find it on the TV. So I haven’t watched any of it, we’ve been on the road the whole time.

SV – Is your guitar “sound” something that’s constantly evolving, or do you have a signature that you maintain?
EK – It’s definitely evolving. I add and experiment with different thing constantly. You know, incorporating different pedals, trying different things. As time goes on, I’ve gotten into using not as many effects, and more – I might get kind of dorky – but different gain stages, pedals that add a different sound to the guitar without having as much of an “effect”. And then I have delay and phase and a few things. I’ve been doing a lot of dub lately, so I have three different delay pedals, for different sounds that I’ll use. Some for more extreme dub kind of things. I also have aMoog Voyager keyboard with me on stage now. I’ve always done that in the studio, but now that we’re touring and we can bring all our stuff on the road, I brought that and it’s adding a cool texture to the band.

SV – You’ve branched out to work as a “DJ” the past few years. How have you found that experience?
EK – You know, my brother was the first to ask me “hey man, do you want to DJ this gig?”. I’ve always done production, and I’ve always been the guy playing stuff on the bus, or at the party. Years ago, maybe four or five years ago, I started actually doing it for real. It was when I discovered a program called Ableton. I was never a turntable DJ, because I never really wanted to carry all those turntables, so once I discovered that I could have my hard drives full of music and use Ableton – I can go deeper than DJing, and do live remixes and really musical stuff with it. So I put out a mixtape called Funky President, which is me messing around like I would live. I had done a few DJ gigs, so I decided to record myself doing a set. And once I put that out there, I started getting a lot of calls to do it.

SV – Let’s say you’re DJing a party, and the vibe has dipped a bit, the dancefloor is thinning out in the middle of your set. You’ve got one track to get the party started again. What track do you play?
EK – Either Rock With You by Michael Jackson or, I mean – there’s a few. James Brown, any James Brown always works. James Brown is the go-to, if anything’s going wrong in your DJ set, or Flashlight by Parliament Funkadelic. There’s a few go-to tracks, definitely.

SV – You are a big collaborator. Who have you enjoyed playing with recently?
EK – I really had fun playing with Phil. Aside from Central Park, I played a few days later in his band with his sons, and I had a blast digging into that music. It was just different from a lot of the collaborations I’ve been doing, getting into those songs that I grew up loving but never really learned and played. It was interesting to get inside those tunes, and realize there was a lot more going on than I remembered. So that was cool, and I’m trying to think of some other ones. I’m looking forward to – I’ve always loved playing with George Porter. I play with him a lot these days, we end up in different configurations. He’s one of those guys that, when you know he’s there you don’t have to worry about the material. He’s such a great leader, and he really thrives on spontaneity and improvising and finding new ways to play a song. I dig that about him. He’s also like 63 years old or something like that, and he’s still one of the hardest working dudes, out there playing always. I respect that so much.

SV – Who’s still on your wish list, of people to jam with?
EK – One of the big ones is D’Angelo, who’s one of my favourite artists, even though he hasn’t put a record out in a long time. There are supposedly some things that may happen. It’s almost happened a few times, and I think it will happen. I look forward to that day, for sure.

SV – What’s your dream jam session lineup, dead or alive?
EK – Dead or alive! Jeez, that’s a tough one. Definitely Jimi Hendrix, and I know that seems so obvious but I just gotta say it. I mean, I’m gonna pick some pretty obvious ones. Is it too obvious to say Bonham? I guess, maybe. But hey, it is what it is. Living, I would say Pino Palladino, who’s my favourite bass player. I do know him, but I haven’t had a chance to play with him.

SV – He’s playing with Nine Inch Nails now.
EK – Yeah, I saw him play with them recently. So yeah, I’d say Pino. I’m gonna say Bonham and Zigaboo, both on drums. Two drummers (laughs). I’m gonna say Herbie Hancock, in 1974. Actually, maybe I’d even say Paul Jackson as well, in 1974. He and Pino can alternate. Then Catfish Collins on rhythm guitar, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis….and James Brown (laughs). You’re giving me too much to work with here, I could go on forever. But that’s a good start.

SV – Before I let you go: Does Lettuce have anything special planned for Toronto, which is the last show of the tour?
EK – You know, we were just talking about that. We have no days off until then, and usually you have a day off and you do a thing called “Crew Night”, where the band takes the crew out and we party and rage. So because of that, we’re gonna try to do that in Toronto (laughs). I don’t know if that’s gonna affect the show, but I’m sure that we’ll be psyched to end on a high note. I know we’ll bring it as hard as we can.